Wednesday, December 11, 2013

The rare courtesy of a stranger


    ’Tis the season to be watchful for small miracles that surface unexpectedly from the bubbly froth of our holiday urgency. A small miracle happened to me last Saturday.
    I had spent an “urgent” day covering errands and appointments up and down the valley. Finally en route back home, I remembered those few forgotten items at the grocery store and detoured to Atkinsons’ in Ketchum. The late afternoon was so cold and overcast that I questioned why I didn’t continue on home and leave shopping until the next day, likening this to taking that last run. However, the grocery store can be compelling.
    I parked in the last space at the rear of the double lanes running the center length of East Street, always considering that spot to be on the fringe of traffic and protected. After a quick dash inside for my items, I returned to the car, placed the groceries in the back seat and walked around to the driver’s side. Then I saw it: a small torn piece of paper tucked under the windshield wiper. Obviously a note. “What now?” I wondered. I noticed also that the paper was neatly torn. Someone took care. The note read: “I bumped your car. Please call me if any damage. Sorry. Slipped on the ice!”

How far could it go?
Peace on earth?

    The story could end there and be complete. Acts of kindness are a complete story and stand on their own. But it continued.
    We all remember occasions when our cars were bruised, scratched, dented, “keyed,” all by anonymous donors. Feeling sad or angry makes you a victim. Choosing to become an observer turns you into a scientist. Now comes along a total stranger who changes the paradigm. I felt a rush of delight. I got out and walked around the car twice and saw no apparent damage. I called the cell phone number on the note. A man’s voice answered and I reported the good news, and most likely babbled on about his voluntary kind gesture, and the fact that he left a note and phone number even though there seemed to be no harm done. His response to all of this was, “I always try to do the right thing”. That, too, gave me pause because I wasn’t sure that I always did the right thing and was pretty sure that I didn’t always do the right thing. I asked his name and gave him mine.
    When I arrived home, I noticed it—an indistinct soft impression at the back of the car in a spot where the body was already molded with some curves and indentations. Difficult to say whether the new one added or detracted.  How can you complain about a few curves.
    I called the gentleman and reported my findings. It turned out that he is a neighbor. I said that the “damage”, as it were, was not worth much attention but that I really like red wine and at his convenience he could leave some next to the stone elf at my front door. Ten minutes later, there was a knock at the front door, and I was greeted by quite a well-mannered and attractive young man who was offering a bottle of red wine and a note with it. He stepped inside and we chatted for a moment, and learned that we had mutual friends. Then we wished Merry Christmas to each other, and said good night.
    It was a swell experience. A small miracle. A perfect moment. Lots of ways to describe what happened. The dent is barely noticeable and if I do think about it, it will bring a smile.
    However, the more I did think about it, I started thinking about what small random acts I could perform as we move farther into the holiday season. And what if I did that maybe five times, and two or three of those people did it five times, and if what began as linear movement toward kindness became exponential? How far could it go?  Peace on earth?
    The Sunday service at the church I attend frequently ends with our priest reading the following blessing to the congregation: “Life is short, and we do not have too much time to gladden the hearts of those who walk the Way with us. So be swift to love and make haste to be kind, and the blessing of God Almighty, Father, Son and Holy Spirit, be with you this day and always. Amen.”

    Rae DeVito lives in Sun Valley.

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